Alcohol use research previously suggested that drinking behaviors were associated with reductions in brain volume, therefore proposing that drinking itself shrinks the brain. However, new research found that the opposite may be true: smaller brain size may create a genetic tendency for increased alcohol consumption.
Researchers utilized data from multiple studies to confirm the findings that there is a link between higher alcohol consumption and lower brain volume. Specifically, higher alcohol consumption was recorded when the gray matter was lower in brain regions that regulate emotion, reward, memory, decision making, and cognitive control. Thus, lower brain volume affecting these cognitive functions predicted adolescent drinking and future drinking behaviors into adulthood. A variety of approaches and data analysis techniques were used, and findings shared the same conclusion: reduced brain volume predisposes someone to increased drinking behaviors.
This study used longitudinal data or a collection of recurrent observations of the same subjects over a long period. The research compared the drinking behaviors between twins and non-twin siblings, as well as studying children that were never exposed to alcohol. Findings showed that siblings who drank more heavily had lower brain volumes. Remarkably, they found no difference in brain volumes among siblings who were both heavy alcohol users, even if one typically drank more than the other. This finding further proves that lower brain volume is a pre-existing and genetic factor associated with drinking behaviors.
While insightful, this study does not completely omit the idea that alcohol abuse may reduce brain size. It only suggests that brain volumes were lower in the first place. As a result of these findings, brain volumes themselves may serve as useful biomarkers, or indicators, for increased susceptibility for alcohol consumption.
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The biggest take away from this kind of research is that every person has a different journey to addiction. At Fort Behavioral Health, we know that every person coming to us is at a different point in their journey. Although we can never completely understand what someone else has endured, we listen without assumption to their story. We hope that through honestly seeking to know our clients, they may develop a new perspective on themselves as well. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807.